Incheon Airport’s 20 Years of History

“We are making the best airport in the world”

Twenty years ago, there were people who envisioned a dream that no one could imagine—a dream of erecting an airport in the middle of nowhere. Working toward that dream, land was reclaimed from the sea and buildings were constructed on the reclaimed land. After years of hard work, Incheon Airport employees felt proud to see the fruits of their labor.

Incheon International Airport Corporation’s (IIAC) first president Kang Dong-seok, who lived in a prefab shipping container and oversaw construction for 3 years and 6 months, dedicated himself to the construction of Incheon Airport. He walked around the construction site so often that he could point out where water was stagnating and which flowers or plants are growing.

This post introduces the story behind the construction of Incheon Airport and big events over the course of 20 years since the opening of Incheon Airport!

Yeongjongdo selected as site for Incheon Airport

Since international travel was allowed in 1989, the air travel market in Korea had grown 7% annually over a decade. Rapid growth was recorded with a 13% increase in international passengers and a 30% increase in domestic passengers. At that time, there was fierce competition to build a new airport to get ahead and tap into air travel demand. Competition was most fierce in Northeast Asia, which was emerging as one of the three economic blocks in the world. The question was which country will serve as a hub in Asia.

In March, the New Airport Construction Committee was established and a feasibility study to select candidates was conducted. Ensuring international competitiveness started with locating the appropriate site. At that time, an airport could be constructed in 22 places 100 km within Seoul, and a detailed study on accessibility to the city and geographical features narrowed the candidates to Yeongjongdo, Sihwa 1, and Sihwa 2.

Considering safe aircraft operations, minimum noise harm, and accessibility to the city, Yeongjongdo was unanimously chosen as the final airport construction site.

However, it was not always a smooth process. There were negative opinions from the one that the area for the airport was too big to the one that it cost too much. In 1992, Yeongjongdo was finally confirmed as the airport construction site, which began 8 years 4 months of construction starting with seawalls and land reclamation.

This construction project brought together Korea’s state-of-the-art engineering methods. The construction of Terminal 1, Runway 1, Runway 2, aprons and other facilities laid a strong foundation for today’s Incheon Airport.

20 years of Incheon Airport, year by year

It’s been 20 years since the opening of the airport in 2001. How has Incheon Airport developed for the last two decades? Let’s take a look at some of Incheon Airport’s major annual events!

2001: Opening of Incheon Airport

Constructed on the land reclaimed from the sea between Yeongjongdo and Yongyudo, Incheon Airport opened and began its round-the-clock airport operations on March 29, 2001.

2002: Surpassing 2 million tons in cumulative cargo volume

The airport’s cumulative cargo volume exceeded 2 million tons in 2002, 5 million tons in 2004, and 10 million tons in 2006. It was in 5 years and 3 months since its opening that Incheon Airport achieved 10 million tons in international air cargo.

2006: Opening the Free Trade Zone

The Incheon Airport Free Trade Zone was established on a scale of +2 million square meters—1.1 million square meter Cargo Terminal for cargo aircraft and 0.9 million square meter Airport LogisPark for Runway 5.

2009: Winning the first international project

IIAC won the Erbil International Airport Project in Iraq in 2009 and entered the international airport project market. It was an achievement made by the company’s effort to expand international projects based on Incheon Airport’s international brand value and knowhow.

2013: Hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for Terminal 2

The groundbreaking ceremony of Terminal 2, which is key to the Phase 3 Construction Project of Incheon Airport, was held on September 26.

2015: Winning the Istanbul New Airport Operation Consulting Project

IIAC was selected as an operation consulting partner for a new airport in Istanbul which will be constructed as the largest in the world. IIAC signed an agreement with  Turkish client IGA the Istanbul New Airport Operation Consulting Project in a new airport construction site in Istanbul, Turkey.

2017: Ranked 1st in Airport Service Quality (ASQ) for 12 years in a row

Incheon Airport ranked 1st in Airport Service Quality (ASQ) by Airports Council International (ACI), which chooses the best airport in the world, for 12 years in a row. Incheon Airport has maintained the 1st place for 12 years since it ranked 1st for the first time in 2005 in just 4 years after its opening.

2018: Opening Terminal 2

On January 18, 2018, Terminal 2 opened in Incheon Airport. Terminal 2 is an independent terminal where check-in, security check, customs, quarantine, and boarding are conducted separately from Terminal 1.

2019: Hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for the Phase 4 Construction Project

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Phase 4 Construction Project, which will build Runway 4 and expand Terminal 2, was held on November 19, 2019 in Terminal 2, Incheon Airport.

2020: Obtaining Airport Health Accreditation from ACI for the first time in Asia

Incheon Airport obtained Airport Health Accreditation from Airports Council International (ACI) for the first time in the Asia and Pacific region, which proved its preemptive disease control to be outstanding since the spread of COVID-19.

This post looked at the growth and development of Incheon Airport starting all the way from its inception. You can see now that Incheon Airport of today was built not in just one day but through multifold phases over the course of two decades. Building on its 20 years of history, Incheon Airport will work hard to grow even greater and fly even higher for the next 20 more years.

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